ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Aaron Judge led off the game with his major league-leading 53rd homer and the New York Yankees stopped the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep.
Judge set a career high for homers, topping the 52 he hit as a rookie in 2017. He also doubled, singled and scored both New York runs.
“We were focused on today,” Judge said. “We really didn’t focus on the past two days, and I think that’s what helped us go out there and get this one today.”
Frankie Montas (5-11) allowed one hit over five shutout innings as the AL East-leading Yankees increased their lead to five games over Tampa Bay. The Rays trailed by 15 1/2 games on July 10.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who watched the final half of the game after being ejected, greeted players outside the clubhouse entrance after the important victory.
“It’s way more nerve-wrecking up here,” Boone said. “My pacemaker was kicking into overdrive.”
Down 2-0, Tampa Bay tried to rally in the ninth against Clay Holmes, the fourth Yankees reliever. David Peralta led off with his second double of the game and scored on a one-out single by pinch-hitter Francisco Mejia.
Jonathan Aranda doubled with two outs before Holmes struck out Yandy Diaz looking at a 3-2 pitch for his 18th save. Diaz had already tossed his bat aside and was headed toward first base when plate umpire Vic Carapazza called strike three. Diaz slammed his batting helmet to the ground.
Holmes’ final pitch was 101.7 mph, his fastest ever. His only other career triple-digit offering came earlier season also against Diaz.
“Yandy thought the ball was down,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Was it down? A strike? I’m not sure. … It’s a close pitch, there’s no doubt about it.”
Boone was tossed in the fifth inning by Carapazza for arguing after Tampa Bay’s Taylor Walls reached on catcher’s interference.
The benches briefly emptied when Josh Donaldson took issue after a 3-0 pitch from Rays opener Shawn Armstrong was up-and-in leading off the second. Donaldson barked at the right-hander, but there were no significant incidents.
“It gets your attention,” Boone said. “Look, he’s just saying get it down. That’s just heat of the moment competition.”
Judge connected on the second pitch of the game from Armstrong (2-2), sending a drive into the left-field stands. The slugger, who had a ninth-inning homer in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Rays, flied out to the edge of the warning track in center with two on to end the eighth.
“Special player, he’s having an MVP season,” Cash said. “He’s really tough to pitch to,”
Montas (5-11), who struck out seven without a walk, was pulled after making 93 pitches. The right-hander, 0-2 with a 7.01 ERA in his first five starts since being acquired from Oakland, had two outings earlier this season against the Rays while with the Athletics and has limited them to one earned run over 18 1/3 innings.
Tampa Bay loaded the bases with two out in the seventh before Jonathan Loaisiga retired Diaz on broken-bat grounder.
With runners on first and second with one out in the fifth, LeMahieu hit a foul that was caught by catcher Christian Bethancourt at the screen. Boone argued the ball gazed the netting, but the call stood after a video review.
Later in the fifth, struggling Giancarlo Stanton flied out to deep right with the base loaded to end the inning. He went 0 for 5, and has four hits in 35 at-bats since returning from an Achilles injury.
The announced crowd was a sellout at 25,025. The series average was 21,555, well above the Rays’ home season average of 14,023.
Yankees: Boone said OF Andrew Benintendi, hurt on a swing Friday, will have surgery to repair a broken hook of the right hamate bone. Boone said he didn’t know if it was a season-ending injury. . Boone is hopeful that 1B Anthony Rizzo (lower back) will resume baseball activities Monday.
Rays: Will face Boston RHP Michael Wacha (10-1) on Monday.